Dealing with sudden absencesWednesday, July 6th, 2011
Do you ever have employees suddenly go absent? Alright, a silly question – but what do you do when it happens? Throw a tantrum, curse the absent employee for mucking up your plans for the day and subsequently consider yourself a martyr for coping? If so, then you should be ashamed. Employees will, for any of a number of reasons, occasionally fail to turn up for work and, since this is inevitable, you should have a coping strategy ready. This of course means careful thought and planning in advance, so why not start now to do just that.
Temporary staff agencies are likely to be able to send you replacements at short notice, perhaps immediately, for any length of time, but the problem is that the people they send are unlikely to know your workplace and precisely how to do the job. Agencies may therefore be useful for sending people to do common jobs such as driving, labouring or typing, but for anything more complex even an immediately available temporary worker will need training, and this is hardly worthwhile for a single day of absence. Nevertheless you should make an arrangement with a couple of local agencies so that, if you do need them to provide staff, they will know enough about you to obviate the need for lengthy form-filling. Indeed, if you have a large complement of, say, drivers or typists, in which absences are likely to be more common, the agency should be encouraged to send always the same temporary staff who should then be able to hit the ground running.
When an employee goes absent, is there a retired person out there who has done or understands the job? If so, make a quick phone call to see if he or she is prepared to come in for a couple of days until either the original employee returns to work or until you can make more permanent arrangements to have the job covered. If you do find someone however, consider three things. First is the person fit enough to do the job? Second, has the job changed significantly such that the returning person will need extensive training? And third, can you realistically keep the ex-employee working productively rather than waste time re-establishing contact and reminiscing with old colleagues?
Temporary workers need not necessarily come to you through an agency. You may be able to use your own employees to put you in touch with people who are prepared to come to work for you for a limited time, and perhaps for just a few hours a day, to cover for sudden absences. These people would of course be engaged as your employees and should be given largely the same terms and conditions of employment as your permanent workers, and you would need to train them. This is nothing like as difficult as it sounds. Many companies have discovered that there are people living nearby who have skills, or can be trained easily for your work, are not prepared to go into permanent employment, but at the drop of a hat are happy to come in to earn a bit of extra money now and again.
You need not necessarily look outside for cover for absent employees. If a more senior person goes absent, does this give you opportunity to give the role to a recognised deputy or some other more junior person to give them experience of the job, develop their capabilities and let you get a glimpse of their potential? You should discuss this proposal with every senior or key employee. Who, you should ask, is in best position to cover for you should you be absent? Ask them to identify someone, then encourage them to give that person adequate training and keep him or her in the communication loop so that the employee can take over the role at short notice with minimal difficulty. Bring the senior person to recognise that you are not looking to replace him or her but rather are removing worry about letting the organisation down if an absence is unavoidable. Carry out this exercise across the whole organisation and you will have not only an arrangement to cover for absences, but also a form of succession plan.
Another way to give yourself cover is to rotate jobs so that every job in the organisation can be done by more than just the job holder. You could do this on a permanent rota basis so that employees really get to know a job, but the downside is that generally people dislike constant change. An alternative therefore would be to have people swop jobs for, say, one day a month, on a staggered basis and ideally when they are not so busy. The more you can do this, the more flexible your workforce becomes. Employees may then be prepared to do jobs other than their own, not only to cover for absences but also to strengthen areas of the organisation where pressure is building up.
Perhaps it is not vital that temporary work be carried out on your own premises. Depending upon the type of work it may be delivered to the temp’s home and collected at the end of the day, or dealt with by setting up a telephone and computer link. Increasingly people are carrying out work from their homes. You would need to ensure that the person is properly trained and is fully aware of your standards and processes, and you may of course have to pay for the installation of special equipment. This in turn may lead to your existing employees asking to work from home, in which case weigh up the pros and cons because that arrangement may well work for you.
These are just some ways of covering for an absent employee. Consider seriously any that are appropriate for your organisation and make arrangements to put them in place. For example make contact with staff agencies, arrange job rotation, identify people who would benefit from transferring to cover a different job from their own. But the best approach of all is to form a small group of management staff, list every job in the organisation, and consider what arrangements you need to make to cover the job if the holder fails to turn up for work.
Absences will occur in the best regulated organisations. Make sure that you are properly equipped to deal with them with minimal disruption, thereby safeguarding your own health and temper.